The 2014 Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race has been given a fresh boost following the announcement that Bridge, the title sponsor, has significantly increased the prize money for the race's Swartberg Pass stage with its iconic mountain-top finish.
The 2013 edition of the seven-day race finished in Oudtshoorn in South Africa's Western Cape province last weekend, and Neels Grobler, Chief Growth Officer at Bridge, then announced that the third year of the company's involvement would see increased focus on the women's category, starting with equal prize money on the event's queen stage.
This year, the first men's team to the summit of the Swartberg Pass, Asrin Cycling's James Reid and Jens Schuermans collected R112,000 (US $12 ,000). The first women's team earned R25,000 (US $2,500). The women's prize money this year was donated by Khombisa Media.
For 2014, the event's first year it will be a UCI-graded stage race, Bridge has increased the Swartberg Pass stage prize money to R125,000 for the top men's team and R125 000 for the top women's team.
"The top women make just as much sacrifice and show just as much commitment as the men. They deserve the same reward," said Grobler. "At Bridge, we're not just a sponsor, we're a partner to the Cape Pioneer Trek, and we want to make a meaningful contribution to the success of the event. Increasing the prize money for the race's biggest stage is a good place to start."
Among the women's field this year was two-time marathon world champion, Annika Langvad, who is also the current Danish national marathon champion. She partnered with current Swiss marathon champion, Arianne Kleinhans in the RE:CM Davinci team, which won the women's title in dominant fashion. Their main rivals were Great Britain's Jane Nuessli and Switzerland's former marathon world champion, Esther Suss.
Other women in the race were former South African marathon champions, Yolande Speedy and Cherise Stander, current South African marathon champion, Robyn de Groot and current Swedish marathon champion, Jennie Stenerhag.
"We had a strong, but small women's field in the race this year. With UCI points on offer next year and this big prize money boost from Bridge, we are expecting similar high quality riders, but a lot more depth in the women's race in 2014," said Henco Rademeyer of Dryland Event Management.
"This is really great news! It's a huge step towards equality in a sport that has been dominated by men for so many years," said 2013 women's champion Kleinhans.
"I take it somehow as a reward for all us ladies that put a huge amount of effort into the sport and push ourselves to the absolute limit. But it should also act as motivation for me and all the other ladies to live up to the expectations and grow in our numbers as well as our performance," said Kleinhans.
The R250,000 total prize money for the two winning teams (male and female) on the Swartberg Pass stage is the biggest cash prize for any mountain bike race stage in the world.
"It's rare to have a mountain-top finish in a mountain bike race because of the logistical challenge involved, especially in a remote area like the Swartberg Mountains. But Bridge and our other sponsors have embraced this challenge and have helped us make it into a special feature of the Cape Pioneer Trek," said Carel Herhold of Dryland Event Management.
The 2013 Cape Pioneer Trek was the race's fifth edition and attracted 400 entrants who tackled a total distance of over 500 kilometres with more than 11,500 metres of vertical ascent over seven days. A total of 20 percent of the field was from outside South Africa, with 13 countries represented, including the host nation.